The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus

Second Voyage Adds Colonization and Trading Posts to Exploration Goals

During his second voyage, Christopher Columbus saw that the Indigenous Haitians played with rubber balls
During his second voyage, Christopher Columbus saw that the Indigenous Haitians played with rubber balls. Culture Club / Getty Images

Christopher Columbus returned from his first voyage in March 1493, having discovered the New World—although he didn’t know it. He still believed that he had found some uncharted islands near Japan or China and that further exploration was needed. His first voyage had been a bit of a fiasco, as he had lost one of the three ships entrusted to him and he did not bring back much in the way of gold or other valuable items. He did, however, bring back a group of Indigenous people he had enslaved on the island of Hispaniola, and he was able to convince the Spanish crown to finance the second voyage of discovery and colonization.

Preparations for the Second Voyage

The second voyage was to be a large-scale colonization and exploration project. Columbus was given 17 ships and over 1,000 men. Included on this voyage, for the first time, were European domesticated animals such as pigs, horses, and cattle. Columbus’ orders were to expand the settlement on Hispaniola, convert the population of Indigenous people to Christianity, establish a trading post, and continue his explorations in search of China or Japan. The fleet set sail on October 13, 1493, and made excellent time, first sighting land on November 3.

Dominica, Guadalupe and the Antilles

The island first sighted was named Dominica by Columbus, a name it retains to this day. Columbus and some of his men visited the island, but it was inhabited by fierce Caribs and they did not stay very long. Moving on, they discovered and explored a number of small islands, including Guadalupe, Montserrat, Redondo, Antigua, and several others in the Leeward Islands and Lesser Antilles chains. He also visited Puerto Rico before making his way back to Hispaniola.

Hispaniola and the Fate of La Navidad

Columbus had wrecked one of his three ships the year of his first voyage. He had been forced to leave 39 of his men behind on Hispaniola, in a small settlement named La Navidad. Upon returning to the island, Columbus discovered that the men he left had raped Indigenous women and angered the population. Indigenous people had then attacked the settlement, slaughtering the Europeans to the last man. Columbus, consulting his Indigenous chieftain ally Guacanagarí, laid the blame on Caonabo, a rival chief. Columbus and his men attacked, routing Caonabo and capturing and enslaving many of the people.


Columbus founded the town of Isabella on the northern coast of Hispaniola, and spent the next five months or so getting the settlement established and exploring the island. Building a town in a steamy land with inadequate provisions is hard work, and many of the men became sick and died. It reached the point where a group of settlers, led by Bernal de Pisa, attempted to capture and make off with several ships and go back to Spain: Columbus learned of the revolt and punished the plotters. The settlement of Isabella remained but never thrived. It was abandoned in 1496 in favor of a new site, now Santo Domingo.

Cuba and Jamaica

Columbus left the settlement of Isabella in the hands of his brother Diego in April, setting out to explore the region further. He reached Cuba (which he had discovered on his first voyage) on April 30 and explored it for several days before moving on to Jamaica on May 5. He spent the next few weeks exploring the treacherous shoals around Cuba and searching in vain for the mainland. Discouraged, he returned to Isabella on August 20, 1494.

Columbus as Governor

Columbus had been appointed governor and Viceroy of the new lands by the Spanish crown, and for the next year and a half, he attempted to do his job. Unfortunately, Columbus was a good ship’s captain but a lousy administrator, and those colonists that still survived grew to hate him. The gold they had been promised never materialized and Columbus kept most of what little wealth was found for himself. Supplies began running out, and in March of 1496 Columbus returned to Spain to ask for more resources to keep the struggling colony alive.

The Start of the Enslaved Indigenous Peoples Trade

Columbus brought back many enslaved Indigenous people with him. Columbus, who had once again promised gold and trade routes, did not want to return to Spain empty-handed. Queen Isabella, appalled, decreed that the New World Indigenous people were subjects of the Spanish crown and therefore could not be enslaved. However, the practice of enslaving Indigenous populations continued.

People of Note in Columbus’ Second Voyage

  • Ramón Pané was a Catalan priest who lived among the Taíno people for about four years and produced a short but very important ethnographic history of their culture.
  • Francisco de Las Casas was an adventurer whose son Bartolomé was destined to become very important in the fight for the rights of Indigenous people.
  • Diego Velázquez was a conquistador who later became governor of Cuba.
  • Juan de la Cosa was an explorer and cartographer who produced several important early maps of the Americas.
  • Juan Ponce de León would become governor of Puerto Rico but was most famous for his journey to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth.

Historical Importance of the Second Voyage

Columbus’ second voyage marked the start of colonialism in the New World, the social importance of which cannot be overstated. By establishing a permanent foothold, Spain took the first steps toward its mighty empire of the centuries that followed, an empire that was built with New World gold and silver.

When Columbus brought back enslaved Indigenous peoples to Spain, he also caused the question of whether to practice enslavement in the New World to be aired openly, and Queen Isabella decided that her new subjects could not be enslaved. But although Isabella perhaps prevented a few instances of enslavement, the conquest and colonization of the New World was devastating and deadly for Indigenous peoples: their population dropped by approximately 80% between 1492 and the mid-17th century. The drop was caused mainly by the arrival of Old World diseases, but others died as a result of violent conflict or enslavement.

Many of those who sailed with Columbus on his second voyage went on to play very important roles in the trajectory of history in the New World. These first colonists had a significant amount of influence and power over the span of the next few decades.


  • Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.
  • Thomas, Hugh. "Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan." Hardcover, 1st edition, Random House, June 1, 2004.
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Minster, Christopher. "The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Minster, Christopher. (2023, April 5). The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus. Retrieved from Minster, Christopher. "The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).